REVIEW: Kindle Fire

Amazon is expected to make a big splash in the tablet market with the Kindle Fire and when the company opened up pre-orders for the device, I bought one immediately and have been playing with it for a while.

A lot of what you think of Kindle Fire will depend on what your use case is. If you are looking for a less expensive iPad, then this is not for you. But if you, like me, are looking for a Kindle with a browser on it, this could well be the device for you.

My biggest frustration with the Kindle has always been that I can’t jump out of the book and do a quick map lookup, Wikiepedia lookup or a Google images lookup. I've solved that problem by moving all my reading from the kindle to the kindle app on the iPad. But the 11" inch form factor of the iPad isn't ideal for me. I like something a bit smaller for reading on the couch, plane, or in bed. So that is why I hit the pre-order button immediately when Amazon announced Kindle Fire.

A number of critics have said that Kindle Fire is slow, but I haven’t experienced much of that. It seems plenty snappy for me but I'm mostly using it for reading and light browsing not a lot of email. I am also not doing spreadsheets on it. However, when it comes to graphics rich applications like Google Maps the device does seem to be slow down a touch.

So with all that said, here's a quick tour. The main screen is what you'd expect.

Navigation and apps 




Just a word to the wise. Those Twitter and Facebook apps are web apps, not android apps or Kindle Fire apps. One of the things I don't understand is why the tablet doesn't run android apps natively, which I think is a huge mistake on Amazon's part.

The best part of this device is the Kindle functionality. This is a kindle with an OS and a modern browser.

Book library, Book reader





As a book reading device, the tablet works great. It is heavier than a kindle, weighs about the same as an iPad. But because it is a smaller device and the same weight, it feels heavier in the hand. That said, I do not have any issue reading on the Kindle Fire for long lengths of time (same with iPad).

The browser great for reading. Here's a blog on the Kindle Fire.

I do have a few issues with the way Google Maps works on the Kindle Fire browser. It seems less functional and a bit slower.

In addition to books and web, there are tabs for newstand, music, video, docs, and apps. The only tabs that interest me on that list are apps and videos. I use the web to access everything else on that list (and much of the video I watch is also on the web). I used Kindle Fire to watch a YouTube video in full screen mode on the treadmill this morning and it worked great (with headphones on).

A sparse app store for now 


So that's a quick tour of the Kindle Fire, which will replace the iPad next to my bed as my primary reading device. It's smaller and fits better in the hand and while it is not much lighter, it still feels like a better reading device. The browser works fine. I can jump back and forth between reading and browsing easily.

Bottom line - if you are in the market for a kindle or a new kindle, consider this. If you are looking for a less expensive tablet, this is not a good choice, at least yet. I think the android tablets are a better choice for that.

Fred Wilson is a VC and principal of Union Square Ventures.You can read his blog here.